Another basic component of PFT/PRT training involves muscular strength and endurance, but as with aerobic conditioning, you need to develop it over time, not just before your fitness tests. Whether you’re training or in the field, your muscular strength and endurance are essential components of your overall fitness and injury prevention.
But training to improve muscular strength is not the same as training for muscular endurance. Muscular strength is the amount of force that a muscle can produce with a single maximum effort. Muscular endurance is the ability to sustain a muscle contraction over a period of time, or to repeatedly contract a muscle over a period of time (for example, push-ups and sit-ups).
Learn how to use the FITT principle to develop a muscular fitness routine that will build both strength and endurance to prepare for the PFT/PRT and beyond.
FITT for muscular strength and endurance
As with aerobic conditioning, you can use the FITT principle to guide your muscular fitness routine. Its components are frequency, intensity, type, and time, combined with progression.
Resistance training for muscular fitness—both strength and endurance—by the “whole-body” training approach should be performed 2–3 days a week with at least 48 hours of rest between training sessions. The “split-body” approach involves focusing on one set of muscle groups one day and a different set on another day. This allows you to do resistance training on consecutive days in a cyclical routine. For example, you might exercise your upper-body muscles one day, followed by lower-body muscles the next, and core/back muscles the third day of the rotation.
When training for muscular strength, use a weight that’s about 65–90% of your one-repetition maximum (1RM). If you’re new to weightlifting or haven’t lifted weights for a while, start at 60%. For experienced lifters who want to improve their muscular strength, aim for 8–12 reps per set for 2–4 sets, with a 2- to 3-minute rest between sets. To improve your muscular endurance, do 15–20 repetitions at no more than 50% of your 1RM, with a 2- to 3-minute rest between every one or two sets. A well-rounded muscular fitness program should include both strength and endurance training, but consider your specific goals when deciding on your approach.
There are a lot of different types of resistance training workouts. Doing push-ups and sit-ups to prepare for the PFT/PRT is important, but other core exercises also can help build your strength and endurance. When choosing the best exercises for your workout, first consider your level of experience. If you’re new to weight training, then you should rely on machine exercises because they require much less technique and time to learn. If you have more experience and feel comfortable enough, then a combination of free weights and machines are ideal for building your muscle mass. The next consideration is the amount of muscle involved in the motion: the more joints and the larger the muscle group, the better. For example, an exercise involving ankles, knees, and hips is better than one just involving your ankles.
The duration of a resistance-training workout can vary considerably. As for the tempo of each exercise, experiment with lifting a weight for a count of about 2 seconds, and lowering for a count of about 3–4; take about twice as long to lower as to lift.
Once you can perform the maximum number of repetitions correctly and with relative ease, increase the amount of resistance by 5–10%. This applies to repetitions performed for both strength and endurance.
Minimize the risk of injuries by using proper form, exercising with a partner, and paying attention to signs of excessive fatigue and pain. If you’re new to strength training, consider working with a personal trainer who can teach you proper technique. Strength training will pay off not only for your PFT/PRT but also in the things you do every day.
Part 3 of this series addresses the flexibility and mobility component of PFT/PRT training.